Arne Duncan wants to slam dunk bricks on charter school haters

“We will come down like a ton of bricks on states that treat charter schools unfairly.” Arne Said it. You’ve read it.

Depending on where you read Slam Dunc’s statement you will get a slightly different version of the story. Just like a top chef, Mike Klonsky at Small Talk serves up Ed Sec Duncan’s quote done three ways.

from Small Talk:

Charter school lobbyist Gary Naeyaert, tweets Duncan’s threat from the floor of the national charter school conferences like this:

“We will come down like a ton of bricks on states that treat charter schools unfairly.”

Chicago’s WGN quotes Duncan this way:

Secretary Arne Duncan has threatened to “come down like a ton of bricks” on anyone who defies the administration’s plans to bring relief to states who face layoffs because of budget cuts.

ASCD Smart Brief says the bricks are just for governors (whew!) :

Secretary Arne Duncan, who threatened to “come down like a ton of bricks” on governors who attempt to divert education stimulus funds.

What is Duncan saying here? Well this is the same kind of strong arm tactics the government employs to influence state policy. You don’t have to do what we ask, but that nice stimulus money you were hoping for might just go elsewhere. It’s a lot like economic sanctions on misbehaving nations.

To states already practically working with the lights off to save money, the lack of funding will indeed come down like a ton of bricks on them. This could be especially damaging to school districts agonizing over what programs they can afford already.

Maine itself could be in Duncan’s sights. Recently Maine voted down LD 1438 a bill to allow charter schools in the state. The rejection of the bill, if I may digress a moment, had nothing to do with Duncan’s push for charters. Some touted the vote as a Maine legislators standing up to the menacing Ed Sec Duncan. Though Duncan’s insistence that states support charters or die and the vote in Maine occurred around the same time, as a Mainer I can assure they were unrelated.

Back to the matter at hand.

States have already been told they put themselves at a “competitive disadvantage” for stimulus funds by not supporting charters. Now Duncan is backing that with even stronger language. Dunc’s words will most likely be backed with action. Mainers are sure to lose out when that action comes.

LA Teacher Layoffs- Should They Stay or Should They Go?

We’ve been talking a lot lately about merit pay, what makes a quality teacher, and union/reformer relations. A fight has been brewing in LA for over a week concerning upcoming teacher layoffs. Three groups will be affected by the layoffs. 2,900 support staff, 3,500 teachers with two years or less district time, and 2,000 certified elementary teaching jobs are on the chopping block. Huge gaps in the budget, $718 million to be precise, are the cause for these terminations.

“This is all bad, for teachers, for students, for everybody… but we have to be fiscally responsible,” said board member Terry Ragins. I don’t how how California state budgets function, but here in Maine the budget must be balanced. We cannot run a deficit. Perhaps this forces their hand in cuts. In that case there is no way to make everyone happy. If they weren’t cutting education it would be environmental or health care or something people would be upset about.

Teachers in the LA district staged a protest at a recent school board meeting to voice their concerns.

from Counter Punch

Some people say that what we are doing today is improper. Was it improper when they did it in the civil rights movement? Was it improper when César Chávez used civil disobedience to force Gallo wine to meet the demands of the field workers? Isn’t this how India won its independence from the British Empire? In fact, this whole country that we love was born out of civil disobedience!

Then, each of the teachers present took turns standing up and explaining what would happen at their schools if the cuts went through. Gym teachers who have used their own paychecks to buy volleyballs, teachers with more than 40 students in remediation classes, and a cohort from a social justice academy at a large high school, afraid to lose the energy, drive and innovation of their newest teachers–all told their stories. Teachers made it clear that layoffs resulting in larger class sizes will be a disaster for students.

Since we had the boardroom occupied, we used the opportunity to debate strategies, tactics and the next actions we could take to escalate the fight and involve more parents and teachers. Afterwards, we joined a support rally outside. Students from three prominent high schools had organized a bus to bring them to the pro cctest. The action drew widespread coverage in the local media.

The LA Times editorial page this morning features opinions from both sides of the issue.
First one former teacher and president of the Teacher’s Empowerment Network questions why teachers should always be protected from firings.

from LA Times

In all honesty, it is certainly possible that some teachers will have to be let go. Although no one would diminish the seriousness of a job loss, we must be realistic. Our state is in dire financial straits — why should teachers be a protected class? This is especially true in light of the following inconvenient fact: In 2003-04, the LAUSD had 747,009 students in its system, and those students were taught by 36,180 teachers. By 2007-08, the student population had shrunk 7%, to 693,680, but the teaching force had decreased only about 1%, to 35,785. In 2003-04, the student/teacher ratio was 20.64 students per teacher. In 2007-08, it was 19.38 students per teacher. If we went back to the 20.64 ratio of 2003-04, we would need only 33,597 teachers — 2,000 fewer teachers than we have now. (Unions hate the thought of fewer teachers — it means less money in the form of dues for them).

A very troubling aspect of the layoff scenario is that if teachers are let go, it will be done by seniority. This means that an ineffective teacher on the job for three years gets to keep his or her job over a wonderful teacher who has been on the job for two years. This would be damaging to kids and devastating to the laid-off teachers, many of whom would seek out new professions. But the unions don’t seem to care about teacher quality as much as longevity.

This archaic system is exacerbated by the tenure or “permanence” scheme insisted on by the unions. Under this set-up, once a teacher has been in a school for two years, he is essentially given a job for life. Getting rid of bad teachers is almost impossible. If we could dismiss poor teachers instead of being forced to keep them, the system would improve greatly. The next time a union official starts talking about “the children,” please ask why the union insists on this system, which clearly does not benefit children.

In Los Angeles, we have some of the highest-paid teachers in the U.S. — most of whom have a world-class health plan in a state whose economy is falling apart, where the unemployment rate tops 10% and whose citizens are already among the most taxed in the country — whining about the possibility that a few jobs may be lost.

It is unfair to paint all teachers with the union brush. But it would behoove those who dissent from the UTLA and CTA party line to let their union know how they feel, and perhaps seek alternatives.

The LA School District must layoff teaching staff. At this point it seems unavoidable. If there is not enough money to go around what other choice do they have? If they must let some teachers go why base it on seniority. That is my major issue, and Larry Sand’s who wrote this piece, with the layoffs. Good teachers will be shoved out the door with poor. Common sense would say this procedure will do much more harm than taking the time to judge who will be let go. If this is about fiscal responsibility then we should also be responsible with our cuts. LA should not just be striving for a smaller budget, but smarter allocations of money.

The next op-ed asks LA to invest in the teaching force.

from LA Times

This year 9,000 “precautionary” pink slips went out to teachers and other school district employees –cafeteria workers, truck drivers and others who make a difference in our kids’ lives — to warn them they may not be hired back next year. Whether or not the layoffs happen, the notices are likely to cause some of the LAUSD’s best and brightest young teachers to leave the profession.

It’s all the sadder because this time the pink slips were sent out at the very same time President Obama came to town to deliver a message of hope. His plan to stimulate the economy includes education funding, and the LAUSD could receive more than $1 billion from the package.

The money is intended as a stimulus, not as a hedge against future needs. It needs to be spent quickly, and it needs to be spent saving jobs.

As 26 members of Congress wrote in a letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state education officials, the money is intended in part “to minimize or avoid harmful cuts to education programs and services” and “to keep teachers in the classroom.” The stated goals of the legislation are job retention, job creation and targeted investment in education.

Federal stimulus funds will not give local school districts the long-term financial stability they need and deserve. But they will give schools the opportunity to plan how to transform themselves to better meet the 21st century needs of children without the immediate threat of economic collapse.

Let’s say you are not well off. You have a lot of debt and are living life check by check. You win the lottery. Not enough to quit your job, but enough to take care of your debt, fix your car up, maybe update your kitchen. Instead you by a boat, flat-screen and surround sound, a new car, and take several trips to tropical locals, dropping copious sums of money along the way. You get home to find your bills are still stacked up and you can’t even hope to afford the running expenses of your boat let alone the insurance. Bet you would wish you were a little more responsible with that cash.

Before I get hate mail I’ll be clear, teachers are not a frivolous expense. Obviously retaining good teachers should be a priority. Maintaining and updating technology and facilities to acceptable levels should also be taken into consideration. This money will not last. If we don’t look to the future, as well as examine our present needs, the problems will still be there down the line. If all the money is spent on teacher retention, budgets will become larger. Teachers will still be cut, likely more cuts than they are asking for now. I said this a couple of weeks ago when Dunc released his education stimulus package.

It is sad and unfortunate that anyone would have to loose their job. In order to save future jobs we need these cuts. If all of the stimulus money is spent now, there will be a greater call in the future.

LA Teacher Layoffs- Should They Stay or Should They Go?

We’ve been talking a lot lately about merit pay, what makes a quality teacher, and union/reformer relations. A fight has been brewing in LA for over a week concerning upcoming teacher layoffs. Three groups will be affected by the layoffs. 2,900 support staff, 3,500 teachers with two years or less district time, and 2,000 certified elementary teaching jobs are on the chopping block. Huge gaps in the budget, $718 million to be precise, are the cause for these terminations.

“This is all bad, for teachers, for students, for everybody… but we have to be fiscally responsible,” said board member Terry Ragins. I don’t how how California state budgets function, but here in Maine the budget must be balanced. We cannot run a deficit. Perhaps this forces their hand in cuts. In that case there is no way to make everyone happy. If they weren’t cutting education it would be environmental or health care or something people would be upset about.

Teachers in the LA district staged a protest at a recent school board meeting to voice their concerns.

from Counter Punch

Some people say that what we are doing today is improper. Was it improper when they did it in the civil rights movement? Was it improper when César Chávez used civil disobedience to force Gallo wine to meet the demands of the field workers? Isn’t this how India won its independence from the British Empire? In fact, this whole country that we love was born out of civil disobedience!

Then, each of the teachers present took turns standing up and explaining what would happen at their schools if the cuts went through. Gym teachers who have used their own paychecks to buy volleyballs, teachers with more than 40 students in remediation classes, and a cohort from a social justice academy at a large high school, afraid to lose the energy, drive and innovation of their newest teachers–all told their stories. Teachers made it clear that layoffs resulting in larger class sizes will be a disaster for students.

Since we had the boardroom occupied, we used the opportunity to debate strategies, tactics and the next actions we could take to escalate the fight and involve more parents and teachers. Afterwards, we joined a support rally outside. Students from three prominent high schools had organized a bus to bring them to the pro cctest. The action drew widespread coverage in the local media.

The LA Times editorial page this morning features opinions from both sides of the issue.
First one former teacher and president of the Teacher’s Empowerment Network questions why teachers should always be protected from firings.

from LA Times

In all honesty, it is certainly possible that some teachers will have to be let go. Although no one would diminish the seriousness of a job loss, we must be realistic. Our state is in dire financial straits — why should teachers be a protected class? This is especially true in light of the following inconvenient fact: In 2003-04, the LAUSD had 747,009 students in its system, and those students were taught by 36,180 teachers. By 2007-08, the student population had shrunk 7%, to 693,680, but the teaching force had decreased only about 1%, to 35,785. In 2003-04, the student/teacher ratio was 20.64 students per teacher. In 2007-08, it was 19.38 students per teacher. If we went back to the 20.64 ratio of 2003-04, we would need only 33,597 teachers — 2,000 fewer teachers than we have now. (Unions hate the thought of fewer teachers — it means less money in the form of dues for them).

A very troubling aspect of the layoff scenario is that if teachers are let go, it will be done by seniority. This means that an ineffective teacher on the job for three years gets to keep his or her job over a wonderful teacher who has been on the job for two years. This would be damaging to kids and devastating to the laid-off teachers, many of whom would seek out new professions. But the unions don’t seem to care about teacher quality as much as longevity.

This archaic system is exacerbated by the tenure or “permanence” scheme insisted on by the unions. Under this set-up, once a teacher has been in a school for two years, he is essentially given a job for life. Getting rid of bad teachers is almost impossible. If we could dismiss poor teachers instead of being forced to keep them, the system would improve greatly. The next time a union official starts talking about “the children,” please ask why the union insists on this system, which clearly does not benefit children.

In Los Angeles, we have some of the highest-paid teachers in the U.S. — most of whom have a world-class health plan in a state whose economy is falling apart, where the unemployment rate tops 10% and whose citizens are already among the most taxed in the country — whining about the possibility that a few jobs may be lost.

It is unfair to paint all teachers with the union brush. But it would behoove those who dissent from the UTLA and CTA party line to let their union know how they feel, and perhaps seek alternatives.

The LA School District must layoff teaching staff. At this point it seems unavoidable. If there is not enough money to go around what other choice do they have? If they must let some teachers go why base it on seniority. That is my major issue, and Larry Sand’s who wrote this piece, with the layoffs. Good teachers will be shoved out the door with poor. Common sense would say this procedure will do much more harm than taking the time to judge who will be let go. If this is about fiscal responsibility then we should also be responsible with our cuts. LA should not just be striving for a smaller budget, but smarter allocations of money.

The next op-ed asks LA to invest in the teaching force.

from LA Times

This year 9,000 “precautionary” pink slips went out to teachers and other school district employees –cafeteria workers, truck drivers and others who make a difference in our kids’ lives — to warn them they may not be hired back next year. Whether or not the layoffs happen, the notices are likely to cause some of the LAUSD’s best and brightest young teachers to leave the profession.

It’s all the sadder because this time the pink slips were sent out at the very same time President Obama came to town to deliver a message of hope. His plan to stimulate the economy includes education funding, and the LAUSD could receive more than $1 billion from the package.

The money is intended as a stimulus, not as a hedge against future needs. It needs to be spent quickly, and it needs to be spent saving jobs.

As 26 members of Congress wrote in a letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state education officials, the money is intended in part “to minimize or avoid harmful cuts to education programs and services” and “to keep teachers in the classroom.” The stated goals of the legislation are job retention, job creation and targeted investment in education.

Federal stimulus funds will not give local school districts the long-term financial stability they need and deserve. But they will give schools the opportunity to plan how to transform themselves to better meet the 21st century needs of children without the immediate threat of economic collapse.

Let’s say you are not well off. You have a lot of debt and are living life check by check. You win the lottery. Not enough to quit your job, but enough to take care of your debt, fix your car up, maybe update your kitchen. Instead you by a boat, flat-screen and surround sound, a new car, and take several trips to tropical locals, dropping copious sums of money along the way. You get home to find your bills are still stacked up and you can’t even hope to afford the running expenses of your boat let alone the insurance. Bet you would wish you were a little more responsible with that cash.

Before I get hate mail I’ll be clear, teachers are not a frivolous expense. Obviously retaining good teachers should be a priority. Maintaining and updating technology and facilities to acceptable levels should also be taken into consideration. This money will not last. If we don’t look to the future, as well as examine our present needs, the problems will still be there down the line. If all the money is spent on teacher retention, budgets will become larger. Teachers will still be cut, likely more cuts than they are asking for now. I said this a couple of weeks ago when Dunc released his education stimulus package.

It is sad and unfortunate that anyone would have to loose their job. In order to save future jobs we need these cuts. If all of the stimulus money is spent now, there will be a greater call in the future.

Recovery Online – The new stimulus website

Recovery.gov is open for business. I browsed the site a bit. There isn’t a great deal to look at yet. The site is a lot like the stimulus itself; a lot of promises without much progress, not yet anyway.

There is an uninspired timeline of stimulus milestones letting you know when certain groups receive funding and are asked to report on its use. A summary of the bill can be found with a link to the entire leviathan. Detailed charts show how much of the stimulus will be invested in each sector and expected job creation/salvation in each state. Maine by the way is expected to gain or keep 15,000 jobs.

The government’s Recovery site is in its infancy. It was created to help begin to boost confidence. I can see it doing that. Personally it doesn’t wow me, but I’m eager to see how it will pan out over the coming months.

Ed’s Money – Arne Duncan and the education stimulus

A report this morning in the NY Times details how Education Secretary will spend the $100 billion the Department of Education will receive from the stimulus plan.

Even though 90% of states say they are meeting standards everyone has a hand out for more cash. I am pleased to say that Duncan will now bow to “reformers” who insist on throwing money at the education problems in this country. Duncan will link merit based teacher pay and school performance to who gets what.

from NY Times

Mr. Duncan said he intended to reward school districts, charter schools and nonprofit organizations that had demonstrated success at raising student achievement — “islands of excellence,” he called them. Programs that tie teacher pay to classroom performance will most likely receive money, as will other approaches intended to raise teacher quality, including training efforts that pair novice instructors with veteran mentors, and after-school and weekend tutoring programs.

To receive a share of the $54 billion stabilization fund, governors must make several “assurances” to Mr. Duncan, intended to drive school reforms: that they are developing statewide data systems that can allow schools to track individual students’ academic progress, that they are assigning experienced teachers fairly to rich and poor schools alike, and so on. Mr. Duncan has the ticklish job of ruling on whether the governors’ assurances are convincing.

And Congress has given him a $5 billion incentive fund that he can use to reward states that are raising student achievement and withhold money from states that are not. “We have states that tell the public that 90 percent of kids are meeting state standards,” Mr. Duncan said, “but when we look at how they’re doing on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, it’s nowhere close. I’m not going to reward that. I want to be transparent about the good, bad and the ugly.”

Common sense prevails. I had high hopes for Arne Duncan when he was appointed. There were riotous shouts from the status-quo reformers over Duncan receiving the job over Linda Darling-Hammond. Duncan has made me proud. Teacher’s Unions are bound to hate being held accountable to receive money, but too bad. It’s about time someone held educators accountable for our children’s progress.

The New Sheriffs – Collins and Nelson take on the stimulus bill

Maine’s own Senator Susan Collins (R) and Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson (D) have banded together. What are these two up to? They’re the new sheriffs in town. They’re gonna tell all those earmarks and pork in the stimulus bill to git an’ don’t come back!

The two are working to slice wasteful spending from the bill. Together they are trying to bring a bill to the senate that will attract the support of both conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans. Their main issue with the bill? A distinct lack of focus on job creation and economic growth specifically.

“Our goal is to have a bill that is both bipartisan and effective. That’s what we want. There’s no doubt that the American people don’t want to see partisan politics in this debate,” said Collins. Collins worried the bill was becoming “a Christmas tree where members are hanging their favorite program on it. A lot of these programs are worthwhile. But we have to focus on what the impact is on the economy and whether or not the spending creates or saves jobs. That’s the question. That’s the test that needs to be passed,” she told CNN.

Nelson goes on to explain some of the what should be cut from the stimulus or reduced:

“I like parts of it,” he said, pointing to funding based on infrastructure, “But there’s an awful lot of spending in it that I think is questionable, marginally supportive and stimulative for jobs.” Nelson said it’s important to fund things like programs to stop smoking, “but they ought to be part of something else, not part of a jobs stimulus bill.”

Collins and Nelson seem to have a grasp on what is really needed from this stimulus. As Nelson said, “The majority opinion is the people want jobs, jobs, jobs.” Both senators know that infrastructure spending is the key to this. First get our communities repaired and functional. Then we’ve got to move from the 20th century, 19th in some areas, to the 21st. That is how our communities can thrive and our industry stay competitive.

I have not always been a big fan of Collins. Unlike Maine Senator Olypmia Snowe (R) who I am a big fan of, I have disagreed with Collins positions a number of times. My opinion of her is turning around though, especially if she can pull this off. For the sake of this country the Senate Dems and Repubs had better pay attention to this.

Embedded video from CNN Video

Long Division Takes Its Time – Getting the stimulus right.

David Broder of the Washington Post wrote today urging time be taken to get the best stimulus package we can get. The Dems have the power to push through whatever they want, but should they? Should Obama be more Reagan or Clinton? Read the article and see for yourself.

Take Time to Get the Stimulus Right

By David Broder

WASHINGTON — When Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced in early January that there would be no mid-February recess for Congress unless the giant economic stimulus bill demanded by Barack Obama were on its way to the White House, she accomplished two things.

On the positive side, she clearly signaled to Republicans that delaying tactics could cost them vacations and campaign time in their home districts. But conversely, her hard line was a tacit green light to her fellow Democrats to ram the staggeringly expensive piece of legislation through, whatever objections the GOP raised.

Last week the $819 billion tax and spending bill passed the House with all but 11 Democrats supporting it and not a single Republican voting yes. The first important roll call of the Obama presidency looked as bitterly partisan as any of the Bush years.

It was not for lack of effort on the part of the new president. Obama went to the Capitol to visit Republican as well as Democratic lawmakers, and even encouraged the Democratic draftsmen to scrap a couple of egregiously irrelevant spending programs they had penciled into the bill.

But the complaint I heard from Republicans was that Pelosi and her lieutenants, committee chairmen Charlie Rangel and David Obey, had used the tight timetable and their control of legislative procedures to block virtually all efforts to open the bill to compromise.

In the floor debate, Rangel and Obey rebutted the claim effectively, I thought. Nonetheless, there are compelling reasons, both substantive and political, to hope that the Senate consideration of the bill, which begins this week, is far more open, even if that means spending more time than Obama and the Democrats would prefer.

This bill, so much larger than ordinary legislation, even the wartime defense appropriations, is almost certain to be the biggest if not the last weapon the government employs to halt the sickening economic slide that has gripped the country in the past five months. So much is uncertain, and so much is riding on it, that it’s worth taking time to try to get it right.

Professional economists from both the right and left have raised questions that are anything but frivolous about its design. Martin Feldstein, a top Reagan adviser, has questioned the efficacy of the current menu of tax cuts and spending proposals to generate consumer demand and produce jobs. Alice Rivlin, who played a similar role for Bill Clinton, has called for a sharper focus on short-term job growth as distinguished from slow-acting steps for energy independence or health care quality. Even the Congressional Budget Office has challenged how quickly this massive infusion of dollars will be felt in family budgets and the marketplace.

Beyond these policy challenges, there are political considerations that make it really important for Obama to take the time to negotiate for more than token Republican support in the Senate.

Nothing was more central to his victory last fall than his claim that he could break the partisan gridlock in Washington. He wants to be like Ronald Reagan, steering his first economic measures through a Democratic House in 1981, not Bill Clinton, passing his first budget in 1993 without a single Republican vote.

The first way leads to long-term success; the second foretells the early loss of control.

This vote will set a pattern for Obama, one way or the other. He needs a bipartisan majority because, tough as this issue is, harder ones await when he turns to energy, health care and entitlement reform.

The good news is that Obama can find such support in the Senate, if his allies are smart in the way they handle the bill and allow the Republicans, including Mitch McConnell, Lamar Alexander, Chuck Grassley and John McCain, to have a real voice in reshaping it. And then the dozen or so House Republicans who wanted to vote yes before the process turned ugly will finally be able to do so, when the bill comes back to the House.

What Obama can’t allow is for Majority Leader Harry Reid to become impatient and force a showdown or pull the bill off the floor, as Reid did with immigration reform in the last Congress. So much is riding on this — both substantively and politically — it’s worth taking the time to do it right.

It would be devastating for Obama and the country to push this stimulus through as fast as possible. Bullying the Republicans to pass anything the Dems want will not get us through this. Nor will the Repubs bucking everything Obama sends their way just on the basis of ideology. It seems like I am reading a lot on taking the stimulus slow and steady. Is our government listening?